News and Resources from the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Living Our Mission

We Give Thanks for a Special Gift

By Rev. Marie C. Jerge, bishop

We give thanks for congregations that share generously when they have received special gifts or bequests. Atonement Lutheran Church, Syracuse recently received a bequest and sent the Upstate New York Synod $20,000 earmarked for support of Horizon Internships, a program which provides for internships in both urban and rural contexts. Horizon Internships are a partnership program between a congregation, synod and the churchwide organization, with each partner contributing approximately one third of the cost. Atonement has had Horizon Interns for many years and they have now provided a way for synod support to continue for years to come. We are grateful for their thoughtfulness and creativity in funding the development of leaders with special training in urban and rural contexts.

Cherish All Children Q and A

By Dianne Klafehn

Q. What is Cherish All Children?
A. Cherish All Children is a national Lutheran ministry which equips congregations to prevent child sexual exploitation. The heart of this ministry lies in congregations, where staff, leaders, and members pray, educate, build relationships, and act on behalf of children within and outside their congregations.

Q. What do we have to do to establish a Cherish All Children ministry in our Congregation?
A. There is no set process. You are free to participate in any or all components of the ministry. You could start with prayer or action or you could start all components at once. Your congregation is unique and you are better suited to determine the timing, process and outcomes that will work best for your congregation. Many churches have established polices to protect the children in their congregation and we applaud them for doing so. Contact Dianne Klafehn, Cherish All Children Synod Leader for the Upstate New York Synod and we will explore together how best your congregation can implement the components of Cherish All Children. 315.216.4416 or

Supporting Sunday Schools in Bolivia

After hearing many times that there was a need for Lutheran materials in the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church, Kari Eller decided to involve her husband, Justin, and a local Christian education team to create inexpensive, accessible Sunday school materials that could be used by a variety of teachers. With the help of the ELCA’s Equipping God’s People Project, Kari was able to coordinate and create a Sunday school book.

“We share the book with a pay-it-forward mentality in hopes that other Spanish-speaking Lutherans around the world who create Christian education materials, whether they are for Sunday school, workshops, confirmation, etc., will want to do the same and share their resources with others as well,” Kari says.

Creating the Spanish Lutheran Sunday School material was a year-long process. The finished project can be downloaded online for free, but because computers are not available everywhere in Bolivia and other Spanish-speaking countries, a print edition is also published. Five hundred copies are printed and distributed each year.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of all of the contributors and the excellent work they did to make this book a possibility,” says Kari.

The book has made it possible for a congregation with little or no funds to have teaching materials, because not only is it free, but it doesn’t require you to have anything other than the Bible and other basic items that most congregations have available. It also allows Sunday school teachers to personalize the lessons according to the group’s needs and interests.

Often, teachers, who are usually high school or college students, take turns teaching classes because they cannot commit to a full year. The hope is that even with changing teachers and activities, the students will still be able to hear the gospel of Christ, which is of critical importance to Lutheran Christians.

While the Ellers have recently moved to a new assignment in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the generous support of ELCA members enables them and over 240 other ELCA missionaries in the global church to continue their ministry.

Get involved! Learn more: and

Shout-out for Team ELCA

Bishop05p.jpgA call to all for greater, deeper and unapologetic participation in this church
By Elizabeth A. Eaton

We are in the middle of synod assembly season. All synods will meet, vote, discuss, worship and sing. I will be at five of these and can assure you that, though there are delightful regional flavors, they will be remarkably similar. If we were to take a voting member from the Pacifica Synod meeting in Hawaii this year and plunk her down in the hills of Pennsylvania at the Allegheny Synod Assembly, she would recognize what was going on.

Each year from April to June a remarkable thing happens across this church. We come together. Members of synods participate together in the work of the ELCA and like it! Congregations see the work we do together as the ELCA all across this country and around the world and have a sense that they are part of something greater than themselves and are proud of it. For a few shining days we believe and live the words of Paul: “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Romans 12:5).

And then we go home.

In the Dr. Seuss story Horton Hears a Who! there is an entire civilization existing on a speck of dust. The moral of this story is that, though it might not be part of our experience, we shouldn’t discount the experience of another. After all, “a person’s a person no matter how small.” But I think there is another less perky lesson to be drawn, and that is, until they got into trouble the citizens of Whoville were quite content to believe their speck of dust was the whole world.

We’re not so different. Congregations can, and often do, fall into the trap of believing that they are the church, the whole church, all by themselves. Coupled with some of the most frequently asked questions usually raised around budget time—“What do we get from the synod?” and “What does the synod do for us?”—this understanding of church becomes what I call “Transactional Whoville Ecclesiology.” Transactional because the motivation for participating in a relationship is what can be gotten out of it. Whoville because the individual or the congregation or the synod or the region or the churchwide organization believes it is entirely the church.

I’m not sure which part of Transactional Whoville Ecclesiology is most distressing. This ecclesiology arises from a transactional understanding of our relationship with God. If I go to church, if I keep the commandments, if I follow Jesus, then God will do something for me. The gift of resurrection itself becomes a transaction. It’s like someone saying to his or her spouse, “I love you honey, but I’m only in this marriage to get your pension when you die.” It’s the opposite of “We love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). It’s “we love so God will love us.” This is a grace-less ecclesiology.

The question should not be “What does the synod do for us?” or “What do we get from the synod?” Rather, transformed by the love of God in the death and resurrection of Christ, the question should be “What are we able to do together as synod?” or “What do we get to do as synod or as the ELCA?”

Whoville ecclesiology is isolating. It’s also really American. We celebrate the concept of the rugged individual. We value self-determination. Autonomy is prized. We are suspicious of claims on us by a greater whole. The concept of church as the body of Christ and that we are members one of another, then, is very countercultural.

But the baptized aren’t just a collection of individuals in the church for what they can get out of it. We have been claimed by Christ. Paul reminds us, “You are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Marine Corps has billboards that proclaim: “Serving something greater than themselves.” How is it that they are better at articulating what it means to be church together than we are?

This isn’t a plug for institutional survival or mindless loyalty. It’s a call to each of us and all of us to greater, deeper and unapologetic participation in the part of the church known as the ELCA. We can have a little pride in who we are without irony. I believe I’ve established my theological heft so I am allowed a little hokeyness. Here it is: We are Team ELCA.

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Her email address:

This column originally appeared in the June issue of The Lutheran. Reprinted with permission.

Regional Renewal Teams

By: Rev. Judith VanOsdol, Director for Evangelical Mission

What is a Regional Renewal Team? A Regional Renewal Team is a group of mission minded lay and clergy leaders in four geographic areas of our Synod who “walk together” with congregations to facilitate renewal, health and vitality. (See diagram for more information.)

Why do we need these? God calls us into mission together. Our ELCA Churchwide expression together with the Upstate New York Synod is intentionally investing in leadership development and congregational renewal. An estimated 65%- 85% of our congregations need some form of renewal. The teams draw upon the gathered skills and wisdom of leaders and processes to accompany congregational renewal and transformation.

Who is involved? There is great energy and excitement in these teams as we wonder together what our living, loving Lord is “up to” in our area. As of mid-2014, there are over 150 clergy and lay leaders of our Synod who serve either on a Regional Renewal Team and/or an area strategy. Any and all congregations of our Synod are invited and encouraged to engage in some form of renewal; our Regional Renewal teams can accompany congregations in this process.

Do these teams tell congregations what to do? ELCA Congregations have integrity and interdependence; ergo renewal teams do not dictate congregational life, but rather encourage and support congregations and clusters desiring renewal and choosing to participate.

How do the Regional Renewal teams impact the overall mission of the Synod? Our hope is that each baptized believer in Jesus Christ is a missionary, each congregation is a mission station and each leader of the church is a mission director. Regional Renewal teams guide, nurture and provide input and ideas as we “walk together” in mission.

What are some of ways the Regional Renewal teams walk with congregations? The Regional Renewal teams accompany the Conference Deans, Synod Staff and Synod Council to offer:

  • The Congregational Vitality Assessment evaluates overall health and provides a basis for mission planning focused on connecting with God, with one another and with the wider world. Over 50 Upstate NY congregations are working with this tool at present.
  • Mission in Transition Teams walk with congregations during times of transition.
  • Mission planning and visioning is a listening process that helps congregations and clusters respond to God’s call into the future.
  • Partnerships and Area Strategies invite intentional conversation, collaboration and discernment with neighboring congregations/ ministries seeking a united witness and service for a defined geographic area.
  • Communication Strategy Team serves to educate, empower and equip congregations to communicate the life-changing Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in an ever-changing world.
  • Mission Schools provide leadership training with materials in Systems thinking and practice.
  • Transforming Congregations’ team leaders are trained to coach congregations in this renewal process.
  • New Start tables accompany our new mission starts, such as the South Wedge Mission in Rochester.
  • Holy Closure is a process through which leaders offer resources and walk with congregations nearing the end of their missional life together.

Please look for us at the Synod Assembly Mission Faire (find the tree) and talk with team leaders who will be there to answer any questions you might have! We will also have materials for you to take along, so come and see! Let us hold the leaders of our Regional Renewal Teams, Area strategies, Stewardship/ Mission Support teams along with each of our Congregation and Synod council leaders in prayer as we seek to serve God and God’s people in the mission we share in Christ Jesus.

Proclaiming Hope

This mission magazine tells the stories of just a few of the many ways lives are being made new by the power of the Holy Spirit through the ministries of the Upstate New York Synod. We hope you will be inspired by te work we do together in Jesus' name.

Questions Regarding Mission
New Mission
Lutheran Disaster Response
Social Ministry
Outreach with Young Adults
Congregational Renewal
Congregational Redevelopment
Growing Disciples
Companion Synods
Missionary Support
Theological Education
Outdoor Ministry
Campus Ministry

Download a PDF file of the entire magazine.